Tuesday, December 12, 2017

SWTOR Rant - Pet Peeves and Changes I'd Love to See

SWTOR (Star Wars: The Old Republic) just got its 5.6.1 update today and again things are newly broken or still broken. Such as no Conquest rewards -- again.
Time for a rant. Things I'd love to see happen, and not just bugfixes.

  • Bug fixes.
    • It's painfully obvious that there are more and more bugs, of increasing severity, as time goes by. I really feel that instead of crushing out new content in the hopes that the ever-complaining subscriber base will actually like something, they should take a long time out and fix every bug they can find, both big and small.
    • The Prince teaches us that, human nature being what it is, people will remember bad things longer than they remember the good. So do all bad things at once and spread out the good. Right now, SWTOR is letting a seemingly never-ending schedule of bad things overshadow any good they are doing.
    • Take Action:
      • Have a long time out on new content. Systematically fix bugs till the game is stable and updates ship out bug-free.
      • In the meantime, give out little, safe, recognition rewards for persevering through this period such as legacy-wide Titles, Achievements, or Character Flairs for staying in the game. For example, just completing one quest everyday on any character, and do so for increasing periods of time to earn more and more recognition. At the highest tier, give a 7-day subscription code redeemable any time.
  • Credit Spammers
    • Apparently it's hard work to stop them, but a simple action that could be taken is to protect new players, who are naive and vulnerable, as evidenced by the relentless chat-spamming on starting planets.
    • Take Action:
      • No player can trade, e-mail, use the Galactic Trade Network, or join a Guild with any of their characters until they have a Legacy on the server. By then they should have played enough to understand that excessive credits at the start is really not necessary. This applies whether they are subscribers or free-to-play.
      • Anyone posting a credits-for-sale link has their account immediately suspended for 7 days and 100 Cartel Coins taken out of their balance. If the account turned out to be one that was hacked, then they should have secured it with a Security Key.
    • Another reason Credit Spammers have success is because of inflation on the Galactic Trade Network. Cartel Market items cost a lot not just because they are the product of chance drops, but because players with enormous amounts of credits can control the market on these limited items.
    • Take Action:
      • Make all Cartel Market items Bound to Legacy.
      • Make the only Cartel Market item that can be traded (directly or through the Galactic Trade Network) be 100-Cartel-Coin vouchers. This removes the possibility of putting a price premium on chance.
        • This has the additional effect of making credit exploits easier to trace since Cartel Coin usage is logged, so they cannot be used to launder credits from exploits.
        • This flexible-use item could also encourage even more purchases on the Cartel Market.
  • Referral Links
    • Just as bad as credit spammers and sometimes even more devious by hiding the fact that it is a referral link.
    • Also, the rewards stack into so many Cartel Market Coins that the game is basically giving far too much of the Cartel Market away for free.
    • Take Action:
      • Discontinue the program immediately. No reason really needs to be given but abuse by having non-friends and total strangers use your link is reason enough.
      • If players really want to support others (for example, fan sites that previously had referral links), allow them to gift Cartel Coins to each other by buying certificates in denominations of, say, 100 CC. As a little reward and incentive, let the buyer have 1 CC free at time of purchase.
  • Cartel Market and Credit spend limits
    • Recognize that the game has become so inflated in credits and take advantage of it! Cartel Market goods cost millions of credits so no one in their right mind would subscribe or use Cartel Coins to access Escrow just to buy it with credits.
    • Once effectively-free Cartel Market items start to dry up because referral link abuse (see above) ends, goods on the GTN will come from real money being spent on the Cartel Market. At that point, we won't care that they are re-sold on the GTN because ultimately credit flow means real money entering the game through the Cartel Market.
    • Take Action:
      • Some time after Referral Links are discontinued, stop the system of Escrow and let all players, including free-to-play and Preferred, spend their credits directly from the Legacy Bank and in unlimited quantities.
      • Make the Cartel Coin certificates (see above) tradeable on the Galactic Trade Network to further encourage in-game credit-generating activity to lead to sales in the Cartel Market.

Monday, December 11, 2017

SWTOR Grade 10 Mission Discovery - Investigation

Ever since SWTOR 5.0 (Star Wars: The Old Republic), Crew Skills were expanded to Grade 10. Previously we showed Grade 10 Slicing, Treasure Hunting, and Underworld Trading. We recently chanced on some BLUE Mission Discoveries for Investigation and ran them under update 5.6.

Mission Discovery: Investigation (blue grade)
Might be cheap on the Galactic Trade Network since they are outdated mission discoveries, so give it a shot. We ran the mission with a Companion Level 50 Mako and got a non-critical result. For the mission price, obviously the best part is the guaranteed pink / artifact-grade materials instead of trying your luck with regular missions.

2017-Dec-12 Mission Discovery Investigation 110

2017-Dec-12 Mission Discovery Investigation Grade 10 Trelli Secrets

2017-Dec-12 Trelli Secrets result 1 no crit

Sunday, November 19, 2017

SWTOR Command Level idea - end game respawning

It looks like SWTOR's direction with Galactic Command -- a system loaded with complaints from the get-go -- is basically this:
  • Appease players by improving rewards.
  • Appease players by making it easier to get Command Levels.
  • Appease players by making it easier to get Command Levels across legacy toons.
All this is short-sighted.
The results will be:
  • Pointless to continue playing once best-in-slot gear is obtained. Grind-frustration when they bring in the next tier of gear.
  • Pointless to continue playing once maximum Command Level is reached for a toon.
  • Continued appeasement when players frustrated with the grind keep complaining about all their legacy toons not reaching a satisfactory Command Level.
Since we are so entrenched into Galactic Command, the existing system will probably have to stay one way or another. However there is still time to stop the madness and introduce a test system aimed at end-game activities.
Sure we can keep Galactic Command. We can even keep the Galactic Command level. Hell, we can make that level unlimited. Just stop the existing rewards and introduce character improvements that actually last -- not just a gear chase that is good only until the next Tier comes out when people are bored.

By End Game this article means two things: Ranked Player-versus-Player, and Operations. The idea is to gently enhance these activities. The exact enhancement can be tweaked as playtest results come in.

Ranked Player-versus-Player
Your Command Level is used in a formula that reduces your respawn time.
Obviously the better players won't rely on this too much since getting killed is rarely a useful strategy, but it can mitigate bad luck.

The total Command Level of the team is used in a formula that gives the Team Leader the ability to immediately respawn to full health any team member, including themselves if they are defeated.
This may still not save a raid from wiping, but it does give a bit more leeway, especially when training newcomers.

Legacy Toons
It' a bit late to change Command Levelling from individual toons to something Legacy-wide without committing to a drastic change. However, the process can be halted by changing all direct Command Level rewards to stackable Legacy-bound CXP inventory items. This way, Command Level gain can be focussed on particular toons and away from unimportant ones.
Remember that under the aforementioned scheme we are also suggesting that gearing no longer be tied to Command Levels at all, so it is not important to open a bunch of crates looking for gear.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How to play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

How to Play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

A quickie guide on getting the best start to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Once you've tried it a bit, use this guide to jumpstart your game without ruining it with excessive cheating.

Start on the map at level 11
  • Early game is generally very easy especially if you play a mage. Skip the grind and be close to the level caps for the nearby maps: eastern Odarath and Webwood is 12, Ettinmere, Glendara, and Haxhi are 13. This way you aren't locking areas at a lower level than they could be, and doing so without too much grinding.
  • Also, you can run to a Fateweaver early if you need to, and do so without level-locking maps at too low a level.
  • During the start / tutorial phase, you will come across two rats. Kill one and use Cheat Engine to look for the 12 XP you just got. Kill the other and use Cheat Engine to find the XP address, and set the value to 44600.
  • Each time you kill something you will level up toward level 10. You can only get one level per kill, but having set your XP to 44600 you will have enough to reach level 10.
  • You might not want to spend your skill points yet -- it's not really important here as the tutorial is so easy anyway.
  • When you exit the tutorial, you will be level 10. When you walk a short distance from where you exit, a script will level you up to the next level (11).
Start as a Mage
  • Easy to get through early generally easy areas until you get enough Ability Points to play more fun Abilities on the Might and Finesse trees if you like.
  • Also play a Mage if you like one-shot-kill sniping even on Hard difficulty (with Storm Bolt) and without any investment in the Stealth skill.
  • Great for stealth play because Sorcery abilities like Mark of Flame and Tempest let you attack enemies from behind barriers, minimizing exposure.
  • Don't have to worry about gear since you are one-shotting or two-shotting most enemies. If you do look for gear it is to get set bonuses or Utility gem slots to put in Conqueror's Gems go aim for early one-shot-kills.
    • This also means we won't be putting any points into Sorcerer weapon skills. The most theoretically useful one is the Staff Block-attack Mage's Vortex, but in practice the auto-aim makes grouping the enemies you intended to group very tricky. You are better off with doing casting Mark of Flame (which immediately staggers the enemy) and then Executing when you are ready.
Points into the Magic Tree in this order (assuming you re-spec at a Fateweaver) at a minimum:
  • Storm Bolt 5
    • Mostly you will use this to snipe. At range, start sneaking. When you can see the eye symbol over an enemy, they are in range. Hit them with this to get sneak attack bonus damage.
    • Later we will get Stealth to further increase the bonus. Around level 13-15 we'll start losing the ability to one-shot enemies with this but we'll improve it again with Stealth.
    • Hit enemies that are alone first. Those that are clumped could be hit (and alerted) by the area shock or stun. If an enemy is one-shotted, even if they are in the sight cone of another enemy, no one is alerted to your attack.
  • Mark of Flame 1
    • This will be your main attack power when enemies are close and you can't or aren't sneaking up on them.
    • You can Mark and Execute from behind cover -- even if you can't see the opponent, as long as you've Marked them with the cone attack, which can go through barriers.
    • Once Marked, you can Execute from even very far away, so you can try to get multiple enemy groups during Reckoning mode.
    • To group enemies, run around a corner and let them bunch up. If you crouch, sometimes breaking the line of sight that way will cause them to give up searching for you and turn around, meaning you can sneak attack them with Storm Bolt again.
  • Conservative Casting 1
  • Mark of Flame 5, Conservative Casting 5
  • Storm Bolt 6
  • Sphere of Protection 4
    • Useful later but for now just to pad points to unlock higher Ability tiers.
  • Chain Lightning 5
  • Healing Surge 1
    • More than enough since you are likely not even using Health Potions.
  • Sphere of Protection 6
  • Summon Faer Gorta 6
    • Useful later but for now just to pad points to unlock higher Ability tiers.
  • Ice Barrage 1
    • You could improve this but honestly it's not the best attack and you already have two elemental attacks so you can probably do without having to fully improve a third.
    • At close range, Mark of Flame is better for being able to hit multiple targets cheaply. At long range, Storm Bolt is better for sniping. At medium to long range, the random spread means you are unlikely to many, if any, ice bolts to hit anything.
    • One point here to advance up the tree and unlock Frost Shackle later, which may be useful if you decide you want Elemental Rage or Winter's Embrace.
  • Smoulder 5
  • Finesse Tree - Stealth 6
  • Finesse Tree - Frost Trap 1 - optional
    • Good for the stagger and slowing and even at 1 rank you can drop 4 traps. Not really looking to kill anything here but to set up zones where you can get some breathing room if you are running to put distance between you and the enemy, such as at chokepoints where they come around a corner. Usage can be quite rare except on game reloads when you know monsters are going to surprise-spawn on you and you had a hard time dealing with them.
    • The Stun upgrade may require too much investment to be worth it compared to the gains in further investing in Sorcery.
  • Transference 5 and Sphere of Reprisal 5
    • Any order since you are still rarely going to use either power. This is just to advance up the tree in powers that ultimately will be useful.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Fallout 4 - Killing Slag in Out of the Fire

The final stage of Fallout 4's Out of the Fire can be very hard on Very Hard Difficulty. Here is the best sequence that worked for me, assuming you talk Jake into wanting to leave the Forged and he is thereby your ally. The key is that Jake is basically not killable at that point.
  1. When Slag is counting down from 3, position yourself close to the Forged with the baseball bat and shotgun him in the face to kill him. Since you start right next to him your chances of hitting should be 95% with VATS.
  2. The Forged with the flamer will likely be coming for you. Rush them and get up close. That will cause them to try to bash you with their flamer instead of torching you with hit. Kill them quickly and do NOT pick up the flamer -- let Jake do that as it'll be the best option (his default is a 10mm pistol).
  3. If you can kill the flamer Forged quickly enough, Slag and the last Forged may still be dealing with Jake. Focus on taking cover from Slag and killing the last Forged, although Jake will likely do that for you.
  4. From now on, because of the tight quarters and the heavy hits from Slag, just get somewhat close and keep in cover so Slag can't hit you. Whenever Jake gets up to flame Slag, he will turn to attack Jake. At that point, pop out and shoot Slag. Keep repeating this until Slag is dead.
Lots of food helps but trying to outgun even just Slag will be hard unless you have later-game great gear. I did this on a stealth build (with Shadowed Lighter armor pieces) and an automatic pistol against Slag.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Fallout 4 - The Silver Shroud - How to Save Kent from Sinjin and alternate ending

The final stage of Fallout 4's The Silver Shroud quest is one of the trickiest to handle with very alternate ways to resolve it.

Basically, if you want to do it the way the quest was scripted to play out, you need to succeed in the Speech challenge goading Sinjin to kill you in front of Kent. That turns off the script that has Sinjin and Avery kill Kent as soon as something goes wrong.

You know the quest is meant to play out this way because they even have a standby (Avery) to kill Kent even if you kill Sinjin before anything happens. And there is no chance of Kent surviving the shots because they have the bad guys shoot him repeatedly (one shot will do, apparently). In fact, while you're pulling out your gun or clicking hit locations in VATS, Kent can get shot to death.

They really, really, want the only true way to get Kent out alive to be the Speech Challenge. Some sites and vids show you ways to basically exploit mechanics to get around it. Instead of stressing out over it using various tricks, I recommend one of two things:
Once you succeed in getting them to kill you first, the best course of action is probably to run back into the elevator especially since Sinjin likes to throw grenades. Kent is out of trouble and you can wait till the enemies stop hunting you and reset their positions.

If you have very good Stealth skills (get a Stealth Boy if you need it), you can snipe them from the elevator -- and even do so to the no-name Raiders prior to talking to Sinjin. As long as you are never detected by Sinjin or Avery, Kent is safe.
If you attack and/or kill either Sinjin or Avery, whoever is left alive will immediately kill Kent.

In the video below, you can see I sniped one Raider and snipe the other one afterwards. Since I am not detected, Sinjin and Avery stay waiting for dialogue.

If you don't care about Kent, you can get an alternative ending dialogue with Sinjin. If you succeed in turning them against Sinjin, they still attack you after Sinjin is dead, so failing the Speech challenge is actually better as it leaves you to fight Sinjin alone first.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Fallout 4 on Very Hard Difficulty

Don't do it. Not without mods.

Difficulty in Fallout 4 is basically unrewarding because you don't get more XP for your kills. So these things happen and very quickly the game becomes really grindy-boring:
  • If you don't stealth, you die.
  • If you don't one-shot things, you will also probably die, unless you can get back your [Hidden] status through stealth. You will basically be sniping just about everything.
  • If your build doesn't emphasize stealth, it's no good.
  • You are missing out on un-stealthy things like Power Armor and certain encounters where you are meant to just rush in and be the hero. Also, your Companions are idiots and Stealth is hard with them. But at least they are unkillable and can take hits for you, especially if they were the ones that drew aggro on a Missile Launcher using Super Mutant.
  • Some encounters are designed to defeat stealth, such as mole-rats bursting out based on proximity, and Radscorpions immediately (literally, immediately no matter the distance) tunneling to your location when you snipe them and your hidden status becomes [Caution].
  • You will start avoiding encounters because the cost-benefit is too low. Coming out of a fight with four mongrels with crippled limbs and having to use stimpacks -- all for maybe 4 pieces of mongrel meat? Avoiding fights further reduces your XP gain and your rate of levelling.
You could just grind around low-level areas until your level goes up, but grinding is an MMO mechanic designed to keep everyone playing and feed the pockets of the devs through subscriptions. It has no place in a Single Player game.

If you really want to do Very Hard AND keep the game moving reasonably, you can do two things:
  • Have a decent build. Start with at least Agility 7 and Strength 2 (or Strength 1 and use the SPECIAL book to get it to 2) and get the Ninja and Big Leagues perks as soon as possible to help you one-shot as many things as possible.
    • They will serve you better than going for Blacksmith or Gun Nut because of the level limitations on the higher ranks coupled with stronger weapons needing higher ranks for the same modifications (such as the all-important Suppressor for a rifle).
    • As you level, you will find gear with mods and you can just cannibalize them onto your weapons without making your own with the perks. The perks make it more convenient, but the level requirement is too close to their random appearance on enemies and in stores.
  • For stats, I recommend:
    • Strength 3 for Big Leagues and to set yourself up for Armorer if you want Ultra-Light armor.
      • Delay getting Armorer till you can get rank 3 for Ultra-Light. In the meantime you can strip the Shadowed mod from any armor you come by.
        • Shadowed and Ultra-Lights are really quite optional if your Agility is very high and Sneaking related perks maximized whenever you can. Focussing more on damage to one-shot enemies is more important.
      • Blacksmith is for the later-game, probably past level 25 -- you really only want it for special Power Armor mods.
      • Melee weapon mods aren't easy to find or buy, but the scary bonus from Ninja is so huge you generally don't need it, especially if you pick up General Chao's Revenge early.
    • Perception 4 for Locksmith and Rifleman.
      • If you don't care to pick locks for the ammo, it's not that big a deal. However picking locks sometimes lets you get a strategically better entry location.
    • Charisma 1 but by level 40 you want Charisma 2 and the Lone Wanderer rank 3 perk for a massive +25% damage boost.
    • Intelligence 8 for Hacker and Robotics (you will want Robotics for the Automatron DLC but it is probably not necessary prior to that). Gun Nut, Science, and Nuclear Physicist can wait.
      • Gun Nut is largely unnecessary for a long time as you can buy or find mods on guns and with Ninja and other damage perks you can generally keep pace with enemies.
      • Science is later-game for Power Armor mods. In the early game, Power Armor might be more of a hassle than a benefit.
    • Agility 7 for Sneak and Ninja, both of which you need to focus on in tandem with Big Leagues and Rifleman in the early game. Once you've found some Suppressors for your rifles, take Mister Sandman to keep improving your chances of a one-shot-kills with sniping.
      • Work toward Agility 9 Blitz if you like, to help you sneak up to melee distance without losing stealth. But honestly the distances you can rush with Blitz are so obscene as to be immersion-breaking. Still, great later on for lining up multi-hits when Big Leagues lets you hit multiple targets.
    • Luck 3 for Bloody Mess.
      • Work up to 6 later and take Better Criticals, but that has lower priority. A melee Ninja-Sneak using a VATS Critical is probably overkill for trying to one-shot Legendary enemies unless they are beefy ones like Yao Guai or Deathclaws and the like. You'll start not being able to one-shot some bosses and Legendaries in the late level 40's but if you are behind them, VATS melee will often let you get in multiple Sneak attacks to kill them nearly as well as one-shotting them. If you don't, you could get in trouble sometimes, so Better Criticals can come in handy, as can Critical Banker.
You may one to get an XP mod for more kill XP to help you keep up with the enemy difficulty and keep the game moving and not get bogged down in grinding, but once you get gear good enough to one-shot-kill with Sneak Attacks, it'll seem like double-dipping since you can't kill things much faster than one-shotting them.

Under no circumstances should you get a mod that lets you increase Legendary drops (e.g., by increasing Legendary encounters), build Legendary effects, or swap Legendary effects from one piece of gear to another. Legendary items are already balanced by virtue of not showing up often and being tied to a piece of gear. It'll be too easy to assemble overpowered gear sets by around level 30 when you don't even really need them.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Devotion Oathbound Paladin PvE build for @NeverwinterGame

This guide for the Neverwinter game on ARC is for NW.80.20170417A.3, the 2017-May-1 first patch introducing the Shroud of Souls campaign (Mod 11b). There was only one announced change for Paladins having to do with PvP.

The focus of this build is PvE and healing. Typically, doing the solo content is not a problem unless you are severely undergeared, so we won't dwell too much on that. The main focus of this build is the observation that in dungeon / raids, what often kills party members is not your ability to keep up with healing -- just the Cure Wounds At-Will plus Bond of Virtue will typically keep everyone comfortably at or near their health maximum, mainly because enemy attack rate is pretty low. If someone should happen to dip below 75% typically they pop a potion or you have time to get to them.
What often kills party members -- which contributes toward the whole party wiping -- is someone suddenly taking a lot of damage. Sometimes you can quickly heal them through but if they are Defeated and Near-Death then you (or someone else) will have to quickly rescue them. If they take enough damage in one shot they will be Dead and that often means being locked out of a boss fight till the fight is ended or reset.
Sudden damage can be from bad luck and getting stuck in or clipped by a red zone, to getting ganged up on by a bunch of adds. Whatever the case, your build priority if you are to be a reliable healer is:
  • Top priority: Stay alive. This means you must also survive sudden damage bursts. More than that, you'll probably need to go in and revive someone although this should be the job of a dps character -- the tank needs to keep tanking and you need to keep healing the tank and everyone else.
  • Secondary priority: Massive emergency healing. If someone suddenly takes a lot of damage, you need to quickly get their health up so they don't become Defeated and either need to be revived or die outright. If revived, you need to quickly bring up their health.
    • We will NOT focus on running Aura of Life all the time! In my opinion that is wasting an Aura slot on a contingency that you should avoid to begin with. In a massive raid such as Greed of the Dragonflight, you might want to run it because it saves you from running over to everyone who's downed -- possibly having to run through red zones or other dangerous situations. But in smaller parties it's nicer to have more constant utility from your abilities.
Character Creation - Race
  • Human - A solid choice for 3% Defense (more survivability) and 3 extra Heroic Feat points. You lose Ability Score points but gain flexibility with Heroic Feat points. Those 3 points for the top tier feats can be worth more than just +2 to two Ability Scores. If you like customizing Feats, go Human.
  • Tiefling - Ability Scores in the right places, and a solid offensive ability in Bloodhunt. A good alternative to Human if focussing on solo PvE play.
Ability Scores
  • Maximize Constitution initially to squeeze as much Hit Points and Damage Resistance from your build.
  • You do not have any choice how the game assigns your Wisdom and Charisma, but as you level up, put points into Constitution (for more Hit Points and Damage Resistance), and Wisdom (for more Healing, Critical Chance, and Control).
  • Improving Charisma is not a bad choice for the Action Point Gain, but I would still recommend Constitution and Wisdom instead.
  • You can eventually get every power to Rank IV through Overflow Experience and the Sharandar Campaign Task "Assist the War Effort" so don't stress out too much about point assignment here. However, here are some recommendations:
    • For solo PvE I typically go with Burning Light, Templar's Wrath, and either Bane or Vow of Emnity. Pull the enemy, flash them with Templar's Wrath, and while they are stunned use that time to fully charge Burning Light to stun them even longer. Spam these to help your team handle larger mobs.
    • For small teams in dangerous dungeons I go with Bond of Virtue, Absolution, and Bane or Vow of Enmity.
      • Bond of Virtue to help you heal everyone all the time.
      • Absolution to keep up a big pool of Temporary Hit Points to survive sudden damage bursts.
      • Vow of Enmity on the main target so that every hit on it heals even when you are busy doing something else. If you are confident about being free to heal, go with stacks of Bane, which increases damage to the target and decreases their damage output.
    • For large teams or Dragonflight, if you can actually target the boss with Bane (often a teammate gets in the way and gets blessed instead), go with stacks of Bane on top of Vow of Emnity.
  • Absolution - Key power
    • It is very important to note the temporary points last until they are used up, so you can pre-emptively shield people with this. Use this to mitigate the chances of yourself and the person taking point getting suddenly killed.
    • It is critical to note you can only shield yourself and ONE other person. That person is the last person you chose to use this power on. Whoever the previous person was will lose the points.
    • Also use this as emergency healing because it works on percentages rather than absolute amounts. When an ally has over 100,000 Hit Points, it's hard to beat healing them instantly for half of that. Since these Temporary Hit Points last till eroded, they are just as good as real healing. You still do have to heal them, however, but you've bought them breathing room, and whatever healing they do on their own through potions and the like will not be redundant.
    • Refresh yourself whenever you can and top up the tank if you are not hurt. To reliably target yourself, you may have to look straight up.
  • Aura of Divinity
    • Great passive healing so you can concentrate on fighting while still healing. Still won't help against sudden massive bursts of damage but requires less attention than the At-Will healing power. Use this when the enemy isn't outputting a lot of damage, such as in a Skirmish, where it's usually less intense than a Dungeon.
  • Aura of Life
    • As mentioned before, we should aim to not need this but it has its place and you'll probably end up spending points on it anyway because of how Power Point spending works.
  • Aura of Truth
    • Not sexy for being a defensive aura, but every little bit counts when mitigating suddenly huge bursts of damage that can one-shot or nearly-one-shot an ally. If the dungeon you are in is suddenly one-shot-killing your teammates, choose this over auras than help output damage.
    • Based on the tooltip, it is not Damage Resistance so presumably it is not affected by the Damage Resistance cap, nor Armor Penetration.
  • Aura of Vengeance
  • Bane
    • Stacking three times means this power is actually a very strong support power such as when groups focus on a single boss.
    • The Oath of Devotion really reduces the utility by allowing allies to be affected because it is so much easier to have your line of sight blocked or interrupted in a large raid like Greed of the Dragonflight, thus missing your debuff on the enemy. Instead of everyone doing 10% more damage to the boss, only 1 person does 10% more damage.
      • For this reason, while I'd like to run it on Dungeons to reduce boss damage output, I usually run Vow of Enmity instead as its easier to aim.
    • The tooltip doesn't mention it, but Bane (and Vow of Enmity) does inflict damage when you debuff, so you do have some ranged attacks with which to pull mobs to you.
  • Banishment
    • Interesting power for general adventuring when you don't want to have to handle mobs -- flash them and run away. Otherwise too situational to really want to tie up an Encounter slot.
  • Burning Light and Templar's Wrath
    • Both notable for the stun duration. If your party gets mobbed, flash these in between healing as an enemy that is not attacking can't deal damage that you have to heal. Even flashing Burning Light without charging it up for a long time can be useful for the interrupt.
      • The worst part of Burning Light will be the long charge-up time. Often, by the time you charge it to max, the strikers in the party will have wiped out the trash mobs.
  • Healing Font
    • Fire-and-forget healing that you can put somewhere and walk away from, allowing you to heal in two places at once.
    • A duration long enough that you might be able to refill your Action Points fully and use another Daily Power before the Healing Font has expired.
  • Heroism
    • Looks great for emergencies except it's often too late to activate if you get downed by the attack. The Temporary Hit Points go away after the duration, so you still have to heal madly in the meantime. Doesn't help anyone else either (but you could pair it with the Prism Paragon Feat).
  • Lay on Hands
    • An interesting power that works on percentages. Good for emergency healing except you need to aim it right, and that can be hard to do in combat. Pre-emptive Absolution is still your better choice since you have more time to turn it on.
    • Also good when you need to protect non-player characters, such as the priests in the Throne of the Dwarven Gods skirmish where their immense number of Hit Points means conventional healing can take an excessively long time.
  • Oath Strike
    • If everyone (or the key healing target / tank) is close by, consider just whacking something with Oath Strike instead of putting out heals with Cure Wounds since the healing burst on each third strike should reach them as well, in addition to increasing your healing power by 10%.
  • Radiant Strike
    • Very good when you don't need so much constant healing (otherwise you swap out with Cure Wounds).
    • Key to note is the really broad area effect of this power. So if you need to move and/or hit the boss but don't want to get too close or directly attack, switch targets to a secondary one nearby and whack them with Radiant Strike.
  • Relentless Avenger
    • Knockback is a great interrupt but more often than not you will want to keep enemies grouped together for Area of Effect damage. There are times when you can knock enemies off into unplayable areas for an instant kill, but if you need tricks like that you are probably undergeared for the area.
  • Sanctuary
    • Remember there are lots of goodies here including damage resistance, healing, and getting immunity to Control Effects (clearing them as well by turning it on and walking out of a control zone). Sometimes your raid can't really move out of a continuous damage zone, so try shielding up.
    • If you are out of Divine Call energy and other burst-healing powers, you can definitely try just activating Sanctuary, which can heal quite a bit on top of granting damage resistance.
  • Vow of Enmity
    • Under the Oath of Devotion, allies striking the targeted enemy also get healed, making this a great fire-and-forget healing power especially if there is just one boss everyone is focussed on.
    • You can recast this anytime, either changing the Vow target or refreshing the duration on an existing one (or just to clear stacks of Purifying Fire).
    • Great for long-range support since you don't have to be there to heal if the person needing healing just continues to attack the target of the Vow.
    • You can get more damage against a boss with Bane, but against hard-hitting bosses like Orcus in Castle Never, Vow of Emnity is safer as it helps you put out continuous healing.
  • Some pretty tough choices here, though as a Human you would get 3 more points which can be very nice to really focus on the final tier and get the huge bonus to Critical Chance.
  • The key ones to get are:
    • Toughness and Steadfast to improve Hit Points above and beyond the bonuses from Constitution. Of course there is synergy with Aura of Courage, but for our goal of surviving sudden death, more Hit Points further boosted by keeping up the 20%-50% Temporary Hit Points from Absolution really helps.
    • Light's Shield to maximize your Damage Resistance (which does however have a cap of 80%, however).
    • Exemplar's Haste - Although the bonus tops out at 6%, there are too many synergies involving Encounter Powers to not take every opportunity to maximize them, especially when some of them take a long time to recharge.
  • Divine Call related Heroic Feats - pass
    • Divine Call really generates very slowly in combat. Unless combat lasts a very long time, you are unlikely to flash it more than three or four times in your healer role. When you need it, however, you might spend two or even three in one go, such as when multiple teammates are suddenly at low Hit Points (because the Oath of Devotion lets you heal for 50% more if you use it again within 10 seconds).
    • However, because we don't get to use it very often, we feel it is fine to give Divine Call feats a pass. This includes Divine Action (Activating Divine Call gives 1/2/3/4/5% maximum Action Points) and Impassioned Pleas (you generate Divine Call energy 2/4/6% faster).
    • Instead, we will aim for Vengeful Judge, which gives Encounter Powers a chance to immediately grant a charge of Divine Call. The behind-the-scenes mechanic is more likely to be 100% with a 30-second cooldown. It does however make the small bonus from Divine Action look expensive for 5 feats.
      • Vengeful Judge of course also gives +35% damage for 10 seconds, which theoretically means you are relying on Divine Call a lot -- but that is generally for solo play. If you are the mission critical healer I recommend saving Divine Call for emergency healing -- referring to our Secondary Priority for this build, Divine Call can be activated twice quickly with no aiming required, and you give bonus healing on the second Divine Call.
      • In solo play your healing powers generally let you outlast most foes, so I recommend using the damage bonus from Vengeful Judge to augment your Divine Judgement by flashing Divine Call between Vow of Emnity and Divine Judgement.
  • If you picked Human to play, you get three extra points which can let you also get Divine Wisdom or Force of Will. Easily worth more than 2-4 Ability Points.
Paragon Feats
Although survivability suggests going the Bulwark path, as a healer who is not meant to draw enemy aggro, that path is an inferior choice. As a healer, the Light path is also an apparently natural choice, but this build is based on the premise that we are normally over-healing already, and need help with survivability and emergency healing. With the Justice Path, we get a lot of support powers plus powers that synergize with Encounter powers, which everyone spams.
  • Swift Flash - Once every 10 seconds you move faster for 4 seconds. The actual utility of this is honestly not that great, especially considering you need to get hit first.
  • Bound By Light - To support our use of Burning Light and Templar's Wrath.
  • Flash of Light - Apparently doesn't help you, and 25% chance to reduce cooldown by 10% basically averages to a 2.5% cooldown reduction for allies whenever you use an Encounter Power. However, it's this or Shining Beacon, which requires you to be hurt for you to benefit. Between the two, Flash of Light will see more utility more often especially if tank pulls all aggro from you and you just need to watch out for area effects.
  • Stem the Tide is pretty much useless unless you are in a solo instance. You need the most help with group content such as Heroic Encounters and dungeons, so this is a waste of points.
  • Beacon of Hope sounds good because of the big numbers, but it is actually very chancy and situational.
    • It is wasted if your allies are doing fine.
    • It's random so it will not necessarily heal the person who needs it the most, nor at the moment they need it. You can pulse Cure Wounds out faster than that.
    • It will give out three heals over the six seconds for weapon damage, which is probably around 2% health. You can probably do faster better and at any time with any other healing power.
  • Purifying Fire
    • The way it works is, if you land five hits within 60 seconds without interrupting the target with an Encounter Power, at 5/5 you will have done an extra 10% + 20% + 40% + 80% + 160% weapon damage as Physical Damage. This is 5 stacks and further hits do not inflict any more bonus damage until the stacks are cleared.
    • Five hits within 60 seconds is pretty easy to do, so this works out to an average of a 62% damage bonus on weapon damage.
    • Since our feats support trying to use Encounter Powers frequently, we can clear the Purifying Fire stacks often enough for it to be useful -- even Bane or Vow of Enmity will clear the stacks.
    • Radiant Strike will apply Purifying Fire to all targets affected by the Radiant Strike!
    • Generally this is the solo adventuring choice. Since solo adventuring isn't typically all that challenging, I recommend Prism over Purifying Fire.
  • Prism means everyone gets healed when you are healed.
    • You have to activate a Daily Power, but the duration is long enough (up to 20 seconds) that you don't have to time this power for when you suddenly need it.
    • Transforms a non-healing Daily Power into a healing one. Great when you want to slot Divine Judgement or emergency short-term defenses like Shield of Faith. For healing Dailies, this is probably overkill and may still not help you enough in emergency-healing situations.
After reaching Vengeful Judge from the Justice path, you have 15 more Paragon Feats (at Level 70) to spend. Good feats to aim for:
  • Bulwark tier 2 Divine Innervate
    • If you restore HP to an ally (does not activate if you do not actually restore health with your healing power), you will also increase their Damage Resistance.
    • This is not bad, although in the sudden-damage scenarios we are trying to mitigate, this may come too late unless you were already healing them as they took smaller amounts of damage -- a likely scenario given that you can spread healing around to everyone pretty much all the time with Bond of Virtue.
    • 2.5% is rather low, but you can't expect that much from a low-tier Paragon feat. Still, it works on percentages and 2.5% off a huge burst of incoming damage works out to a potential lifesaver.
  • Light tier 2 Light Touched
    • This helps you get more Action Points from healing spells, which you will be using a lot of in group content.
    • Even without this you can refill your Action Points before Healing Font expires.
So far we've talked about things that will cost you a Retraining Token to change. Gear (including Companion and Mount powers) is more flexible, so for gearing, I actually recommend prioritizing Power, and secondarily Defense -- with the caveat that you get something like Barkshield Enchantment to help against sudden bursts of damage. Even the basic Barkshield will make a huge difference.
Also watch for Artifact, Companion, and Mount powers that trigger healing when you are incapacitated (e.g., stunned), low on health, or suffer a large hit. Adding all those will greatly help you survive sudden bursts of damage, leaving you free to direct the various bonuses on the rest of your gear.

Once you can comfortably handle sudden damage and survive it or heal through it, then to make life more bearable in solo play, prioritize Power and Defense (in that order), and Critical if you want to work on a third stat.
More Power will
  • Help you kill things faster in solo play and make life less tedious.
  • Strengthen your heals, making allowing you to quickly heal a target back up to full health.
  • Increase your passive and side-effect healing such as from Oath Strike, leaving you more room to contribute to damage -- remember that with Oath Strike plus Vow of Enmity you can both fight and heal in melee at the same time.
If you feel you need more defense, you can adjust your gear quite easily in general so don't worry too much about it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

New Player Guide - How to make credits in SWTOR

A lot of people ask how to make a lot of in-game money (credits) in SWTOR (Star Wars: The Old Republic). Usually they provide a useless question like "how do I make a lot of credits" and get a lot of useless answers like "sell item mods". The problem is these questions and answers lack context, the key one being what assets the player has to execute a strategy.

This guide is aimed at new players who are basically starting a new account and have no one to give them a handout. I'll assume that somewhere in between making money you will actually be playing the game. How much time and resource you devote to playing the game is basically up to you and you'll have to adapt this guide to account for it. For example, I pretty much always list for 2 days because I don't want to spend my entire day refreshing GTN sales over all my alts and actually want to play the game!

Further, I'm going to assume you are either Free-to-Play or Preferred and you know how to bank credits in SWTOR until you have enough that the rest can go into escrow. This means we won't talk about making massive-credit moves like buying packs off the Galactic Trade Network (GTN) or trying to control a really pricey item on GTN like Grand Chance Cubes. We also won't talk about investing Cartel Coins into product since that is a limited resource that new players typically don't have much of. Nevertheless you can still literally make millions per day using the techniques outlined here.
  1. When you first start an account, you can make 10 characters as a Free-to-Play account (as of SWTOR version 5.0).
    • You want to make 10 characters and get them all in a guild that can get you access to a GTN kiosk (usually in the guild stronghold or guild ship), Cargo Hold, and Legacy Storage.
    • Make sure you know which characters you're going to keep and which you are planning to or are willing to delete later -- the expendable ones don't need upgrades and must not have credits locked in escrow.
    • You are making the maximum number of characters allowed because as Free-to-Play you are only given 5 GTN slots per character. The more characters you have, the more GTN slots you get, the more credits you can make.
      • For making credits, a very good investment of Cartel Market Coins is in buying more GTN slots. Not really necessary if you are a subscriber since you get 50 slots per character (and a lot more characters available) but getting up to 15-35 slots will help you make a lot of credits daily.
      • 10 characters x 5 slots = 50 slots. This might sound like a lot, but it is actually not, especially when you can't count on every item selling. Also, you will rapidly get more things to sell than you have GTN slots or storage space. When you start regularly getting a large number of items to sell for a good price, you'll want to start investing in GTN slots. However, you should also balance this with how frequently you want to subscribe since credits in escrow are basically just waiting for you to subscribe so you can access them.
        • There are of course Escrow Transfer passes in the Cartel Market, but those are worthless considering how little you can transfer out compared to what you can buy with them.
  2. Start getting your characters to level 10. At level 10 you will receive the Emergency Fleet Pass, signalling your ability to travel to Fleet regardless of where you are in your character's story.
    • Get one character to Fleet as soon as possible to get your Stronghold and to learn Crew Skills.
    • Once you're on Fleet you'll also have access to Heroic Mission terminals which can let you travel to other planets even if you don't have your personal ship from the character story.
  3. Crew Skills
    • For all characters, get Slicing. Once you start getting Lockbox missions, you can start generating credits.
      • Lockbox missions always result in a lockbox that gives you more credits than you spent on the mission. It's random, so theoretically you might only do slightly better than break even -- BUT it is still important because they will provide a basic income from which you will fund all your initial credit-making. With Slicing, you really can't run out of credits to manufacture goods to make you more credits.
    • For your remaining Crew Skills, it is generally a good idea to have some harvesting skills on characters who can get to many planets.
      • The starting planets typically have very little you can harvest except with Bioanalysis and Scavenging to process some enemy corpses. Once you get to Coruscant and Dromund Kaas, you can really start harvesting.
      • If you level a character enough, they can pick up a Heroic Mission from a mission terminal and use the associated Heroic Transport to travel to the required planet -- even without having obtained your personal starship through progress in the character's story. In this way you can position characters to harvest on planets you can't normally get to.
      • Flashpoints can also have enemies you can process, but that's trickier since you have to kill said enemies and unless you enter them solo, groups typically want to move along in the flashpoint than stop to kill everything for materials.
    • For characters who you don't play much and therefore won't be in a position to harvest, assign then Crafting Skills as necessary. For the remaining slots, choose one of Diplomacy, Investigation, Treasure Hunting, or Underworld Trading for each character.
      • Slicing + one other skill = two skills, which is the limit for free-to-play characters unless they purchase a third Crew Skill slot from the Cartel Market. With a 10 character limit, you should still be fine.
  4. Spend some time working on Companion Influence by farming Esseles / Black Talon flashpoints.
    • In the early game with limited resources, this will be expensive. If you are willing to grind, however, you can get your first story companion's Influence up quite quickly by doing Esseles / Black Talon flashpoints solo.
    • Doing these flashpoints will not only get that one companion's Influence up (resulting in better Crew Skill Mission outcomes), but you will typically get good loot to sell right away.
    • Since SWTOR 5.0, the Esseles and Black Talon flashpoints are synced to level 10, even for Veteran Mode so you can run it at Veteran Mode pretty much right away.
  5. While you are levelling your characters / playing the game / doing missions, you will come across various items that are not classified as grey "junk". The easiest thing to do is to sell them to a vendor for quick credits, but if you don't need the credits right away, try selling them on GTN first.
    • This is your initial sales inventory. We'll look into how to manufacture your own inventory, but when you're starting out, that's what you're working with to get you into trying to make credits right away.
      • Transfer items between characters using Legacy Storage in your Stronghold.
      • Basically, try to sell everything that isn't nailed down. Look at what other people are selling for to gauge what price the market might tolerate.
    • The price suggested by GTN will be 5x the price you would get from selling it to a vendor. If you don't know what to sell for, try that. But search GTN first to get an idea of the market.
    • There's a lot of guesswork involved in pricing until you get a feel for what will sell for how much, but here are the key things to keep in mind:
      • What you think of as "useless" might still sell. Don't bother trying to discover why, just try to sell at what the market will bear.
      • What you think of as a ludicrous amount might still sell at that price. A good way to tell is to see if a lot of people are listing at that price range every day -- they are probably making some sales at that price. Otherwise they wouldn't bother.
      • Mass-posting and undercutting doesn't always work well. Don't get drawn into a race to the bottom price, especially when you don't yet have the inventory or GTN slots to do it.
      • If you "make a mistake" and under-price it by using the GTN-suggested price, you at least made more credits than selling to a vendor. It's better to do this to clear your inventory of low-priced items on GTN than be forced to sell to a vendor at an even lower price to free up storage space.
  6. Find things to sell
    • Instead of grinding for things to sell, start manufacturing things so you have a reasonable inventory of things that will reliably sell.
      • You can also devote time to grinding/harvesting with whatever toon you are playing, but I am NOT going to assume that you are going to do so. Ultimately you are on SWTOR to play the game, not grind or harvest like a bot. You CAN spend hours harvesting like a bot and hopefully make millions despite being undercut.
      • Or, as you are playing you can run Crew Skill Missions to build an inventory of stuff to sell.
        • It's easy to underestimate this when your Companion Influence is low. But once you get even three companions to 25+ you'll really start to see the difference, especially in Slicing. You can end up with more Schematics than you can sell or store if you aren't careful.
    • Many people have suggestions for what to make that will either reliably sell, or sell for gobs of money. I personally like to run Companion Gift missions from Diplomacy, Investigation, Treasure Hunting, or Underworld Trading. The main reasons are:
      • They are useful items. Considering how many gifts are needed to level up Companion Influence, it is unlikely that the market for these will completely dry up. Unless the Companion Influence system is completely changed, Gifts aren't going to be obsolete.
      • You can use them yourself.
        • It's fine for your production to exceed your ability to sell them because you can definitely use them on your own Companions to get their Influence up. Free-to-play players need only three Companions to maximum level because they can only send a maximum of three on Crew Skills (as of 5.0, subscribers can send 8). Even so, that will require a LOT of Companion Gifts.
          • If you already have three Companions to max, it's still worthwhile to have a fourth in case you need a high-Influence Companion to help fight, so you still have three on Crew Skill Missions.
        • You're not going to get saddled with a huge stack of dead inventory that cost you a lot to manufacture.
      • Your cost to make them is a fraction of what people buy them at from in-game vendors.
      • It's likely that other people have spares. You can try trading for the types you need on a 1:1 ratio.
    • Another thing I like to make are Crew Skill Crafting Supplements, Grade 6-10. When you run Crew Skills to get them, you are getting them at a huge discount so even if you sell them on the GTN at the vendor price, you will make a profit. And if you overstock, you can use them yourself, especially during Crafting Week Conquests such as Titans of Industry.
    • Once your Companion Influence is quite high, around 20+ or 30+, consider switching to Slicing Lockbox missions with the aim of getting schematics now that you have a decent chance of a critical result.
      • You'll likely get a lot for Diplomacy, Investigation, Treasure Hunting, or Underworld Trading. Run them for materials to sell; and for Companion Gifts to use or sell. Inch your Companion Influence higher toward the maximum.
      • If you really have no time for harvesting, then run the Archaeology, Bioanalysis, or Scavenging missions as well. Otherwise try to sell those.
      • Be careful not to focus on only the highest-level Lockboxes (Grade 9) because you may end up with a huge inventory of Grade 9 materials. Instead, start spreading missions around to do some of the lower grades, thus expanding your inventory.
      • In the unlikely case that even the pink/artifact grades don't sell reasonably, you can still use them yourself making something else you can use or can sell, such as Univeral Prefabs to get utility decorations.
    • Buy under-priced things
      • Once you have a handle on how much things sell for, you can start to spot when someone has a severely underpriced listing, and buy that for resale.
  7. Manage your sales
    • If you invest in extra GTN slots, it's helpful to have 15 or 25 per character. This way you can group things to sell on that one character, and just refresh the listing on GTN whenever an item sells or is returned to you Expired.
      • For example, one character with 15 slots could sell 1 stack of each type of Grade 5 prototype/blue Companion Gift. That takes 10 slots, leaving you 5 slots to sell anything on an as-needed or opportunity basis. When you sell one stack of gifts, you don't need to check what you need to re-list since you will just re-list that same type of gift and you know this character sells only one stack of that item at a time.
      • This helps to keep things organized and speed up your day. It is easy to while away hours tending to just your GTN sales over 10 characters, leaving you no time to play the game.
    • Know when enough is enough.
      • Remember you are on SWTOR to play the game, not endlessly make credits. Unless you are a credit-seller, in which case you are in violation of the Terms of Service and are liable to get banned from the game once they discover you.
The tips here should give any starting player a solid foundation for making credits. Once you have a good reserve, go ahead and ask for tips from others and experiment. If you lose your shirt, come back here and make back a fortune.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Titan Quest Anniversary Edition

If you don't remember Titan Quest, it was a Diablo II clone that was gorgeous to see, especially with its wealth of extremely detailed gear. Shortly after it was released, the company folded, citing computer piracy as the chief cause of its shortage of revenue.

Now it's been not just resurrected, but improved -- the Titan Quest Anniversary Edition includes:
  • Restored and improved multiplayer functionality, including new features like a built-in voice chat and NAT resolving for best multiplayer connectivity 
  • Support for more resolutions, larger camera distance and scaleable UI size 
  • Improved performance and general stability 
  • Complete balance rework with improvements to all Masteries, damage types, unique items and sets 
  • Countless bug fixes and other improvements, including ten years’ worth of community fixes 
  • Increased challenges and rewards for larger parties and on higher difficulty levels 
  • Dozens of new heroes and bosses to encounter 
  • Improved enemy and pet AI 
  • Quality of life features like higher stack limits, quick item pickup, a larger stash and a speed setting 
  • Reduced cheating with curbed exploits, removal of test items and mod comparison in multiplayer
And all this at a FRACTION of the original cost, thanks to GOG (Good Old Games).

Friday, March 3, 2017

SWTOR Story Missions You Should Not Skip

Leading up to SWTOR 5.0 (Star Wars: The Old Republic), two profound changes to "story mode" -- playing the game for story rather than grinding repeated content for gear -- have been implemented:
  • Some quest givers have been REMOVED. This is especially true of various Heroic missions. Older guides directing you to various quest givers won't necessarily be valid anymore.
    • This guide is valid for version 5.1.2,
  • Fast-forward-to-Fallen-Empire character tokens have been given out / put out for sale.
If you are new to SWTOR and want to see the story, here is my recommendation for content definitely not to miss, AND the order to do them so things don't appear out of order or present spoilers. If you maintain the quest chain, later quests typically reference your involvement in earlier ones, through token dialogue options you can pick. (Story Progression Flowchart)

For non-class-story missions, you don't really have to do it for every character, just once to see the content and what backstory it provides. Therefore, to reduce the late-game / later-chapter grind of repeating content, consider choosing two characters -- one Republic, one Imperial -- to do all side quests and content. For the other characters, do only the class stories, and a bit more here and there to unlock Daily Missions if you like. To see the relatively minor differences between classes, look to Youtube, such as Roksik's Knights of the Fallen Empire class comparison videos.
  1. Class Stories -- Do all classes.
    • Some class stories actually reference characters and events in others.
    • Do not proceed to Jedi Knight Chapter 2 before finishing Maelstrom Prison (see below).
  2. Esseles and Black Talon Flashpoints
  3. Story Arc: Dromund Kaas.
  4. Story Arc: Belsavis, Imperial side.
  5. Story Arc: Voss, Imperial side.
    • If you also want to do the Republic side, do it first as the Imperial side ending can give you more information than the Republic side
  6. Section X, HK-51 acquisition mission, BUT do not do the flashpoints yet.
  7. Republic Flashpoints - Taral V and Maelstrom Prison. Quest-giver is on Fleet.
  8. Imperial Flashpoints - Boarding Party and The Foundry. Quest-giver is on Fleet.
    • If your character was involved with Story Arc: Dromund Kaas, there is token acknowledgement of this in dialog.
  9. Story Arc: Ilum (Chapter 3 Interlude)
  10. Chapter 4: Rise of the Hutt Cartel -- Republic side first.
    • After Rise of the Hutt Cartel you are automatically given the Shadow of Revan quest. You can safely Abandon it and pick it up later from your Personal Ship mission terminal.
  11. Seeker Droid Missions
    • Might as well also do the Macrobinoculars Missions as they take you to the same planets, although the Shroud story arc appears to start and end with no further follow-up or connection.
    • The Macrobinoculars Missions will also give you some background into The Shroud if you qualify for the HK-55 bonus mission.
  12. Chapter 4 Interlude: Oricon
    • For the ops, finish the Imperial side first.
  13. Chapter 5: Shadow of Revan
    • Prologue: Forged Alliances
    • Shadow of Revan (Rishi and Yavin 4)
      • If you have not finished your Class Story, you will miss a class-specific mission given at the same time as the Blood Hunt flashpoint on Rishi.
      • If you don't want to do stories for all classes, you can see the class-specific missions on Youtube.
    • Epilogue: Rise of the Emperor (Ziost)
  14. Knights of the Fallen Empire
    • Your companions are removed except HK-51 and Treek, if you have them, so it may be worthwhile during the previous chapters to develop them to maximum Companion Influence.
    • The next original companion to return is your ship's droid, either C2-N2 or 2V-R8 -- you can get them back by speaking with them in the Odessan Cantina.
  15. Knights of the Eternal Throne
(to be continued)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

SWTOR Grade 10 Mission Discovery

Ever since SWTOR 5.0 (Star Wars: The Old Republic), Crew Skills were expanded to Grade 10. In case you haven't seen one of the elusive Grade 10 Mission Discoveries... Here are some. We'll update this post as we find more. So far, we have:
  • Slicing
  • Treasure Hunting
  • Underworld Trading
Mission Discovery: Slicing (Grade 10)
Doesn't look impressive and probably not worth a few hundred thousand credits that you might find it for on the Galactic Trade Network.

Slicing 10 Mission Discovery - Flying Factory

The mission resulted in a non-critical result of Code Recombinator x11, Signal Disruptor x4, Grade 10 Credit Case (item roll level 102), and Mission Discovery: Underworld Trading (Grade 10). The Credit Case returned only 5386 credits, which was less than the cost to run the mission.

Mission Discovery: Treasure Hunting (blue grade)
We found what appeared to be a low-level Treasure Hunting mission. It was blue (prototype grade), compared to the usual purple (artifact grade) that Mission Discoveries generally are. We didn't think much of it until we read it, and were surprised by the result, the mission "Secret Games".

Mission Discovery - Treasure Hunting (blue grade 10)

Our Influence Level 50 Jaesa returned a critical success result:

Mission Discovery - Treasure Hunting Grade 10 - critical success result

As is typical of treasure hunting lockboxes, these returned Green items that had a combined sale-to-Vendor value that was less than the cost of running the mission.

Mission Discovery - Treasure Hunting Grade 10 - lockbox content 1

Mission Discovery - Treasure Hunting Grade 10 - lockbox content 2

Mission Discovery: Underworld Trading (Grade 10)
Here's the Underworld Trading Grade 10 Mission we got from the Slicing Grade 10 Mission above.

Mission Discovery - Underworld Trading (Grade 10)

The main thing is you are guaranteed to get pink Artifact-grade materials, which you normally get only on a critical success result on a crew skill mission to yields blue Prototype-grade materials.

Mission Discovery - Underworld Trading (Grade 10) - result

Monday, February 20, 2017

How to save Galactic Command in @SWTOR

The introduction of Galactic Command in SWTOR (Star Wars The Old Republic) 5.0 and the changes in 5.1, brought out many issues in the game, especially in "what players want". On the forums there's basically non-stop repetitive yelling and weeping over various aspects of the game, generally focussing on
  • Developers not listening
  • RNG (random number generation, or basically the randomness of achievement / progression / acquisition)
  • Grind (repetitively doing things)
  • Lack of alt support (having to grind over all alts)
Developers Not Listening
This complaint is probably the biggest problem.
The answer, ironically, is to listen less.
When you open yourself to "suggestions" and have a history of acting on it in some way, you trigger two things:
  • Too many cooks spoil the soup -- Ideas get sidetracked and ultimately derailed.
  • You can't please everyone -- No matter what a lot of people will complain about a lot of things. There will always be complaints and calls for things to change.
Various aspects of Galactic Command (and the game in general) show that the developers are in fact not that good at designing and testing and cleaning up messes -- so much so that players feel justified in giving advice. But that just means they need better focus groups and quality assurance before releasing anything.

RNG *could* work to be interesting / exciting, but it can be very hard to fine tune it. Next time you buy a lottery ticket, you are participating in RNG and you can think carefully about how you feel about it. There's a reason why lotteries give out easier-to-get lesser prizes -- it gives you hope to get at least profit ("get ahead") every now and then. It'd be a very different experience if there were only one prize, a nearly-impossible-to-get jackpot, every time.

In other games you see RNG as essentially a money sink, where players are drained of fairly easily obtained resources in the process of re-trying to get something (usually upgrading gear to the top levels). In SWTOR this essentially happens with Cartel Market packs.
Open enough packs and you will quickly realize that Cartel Market Packs cost you a lot for a good chance of getting rubbish. So much so that people buy packs and resell them on the Galactic Trade Network for literally millions of credits so that they can get something in a non-random way, even if it costs hundreds of millions of credits -- which in those quantities are moderately easy to accumulate without resorting to gold sellers (which are against the Terms of Service).
That's how much the demographic hates RNG. They want the product, not the RNG. Everyone does, really. How much people complain depends on what the product is. And that's the key part: How much they complain depends on what the product is.

It's one thing to sell lottery tickets Cartel Market Packs for ultimately inconsequential things, but a far touchier thing to exchange time grinding with a good chance of getting nothing / going nowhere. And I think that's where the excitement of RNG went completely wrong. You are setting to a lottery something that shouldn't be a lottery -- time and progress.

With SWTOR 5.1 they attempted to supplement the RNG aspect by letting players accumulate various currencies (tokens, gear pieces, etcetera) that are guaranteed to appear in various situations. It's still new so the drop quantity and exchange rate will likely change over time, but the basic idea is you are not completely at the mercy of random drops any more to get bis (best in slot) stuff.

So what to do with RNG? Currencies are actually a good way of dealing with the issue. How and how much the various tokens are obtained need to be tweaked (especially against exploits) but that's a given. What appears wrong with it is grind, and that's a different issue that needs to be addressed.

There are games that are literally all about grinding and people love them. Shop Heroes, for example. The core of the game is crafting and selling, dressed up in attractive graphics, and with various side things to do to break up the tedium. The game keeps going and going by setting incredibly far achievement milestones that take a long time to reach. But no one who plays those games complain about it being "grind"! Why? The SWTOR developers need to look at other "grindy" games and decipher how they don't elicit the same complaints. Here are some aspects to consider:
  • The essential gameplay is enjoyable, even if repetitive.
    • You can't please everyone, so different people will complain about different aspects of the game. Ignore them. For each aspect of the game, listen to who loves it and why.
  • There is something to reach for.
    • Each milestone unlocks gameplay and TRANSFORMS it. Transformation is key -- once you reach a milestone, it must give a new experience to the game -- in a small way making it a "new game".
    • It has to be far enough away and REWARDING enough to feel like an achievement and to make you want to get to the next thing.
  • There is enough gameplay where you are currently at.
    • Because the next tier transforms your game, obviously you want to get there for the benefits. But while you are getting there, you should still be enjoying the game.
In SWTOR, people who complain about Grind are probably people who have exhausted the game and at some level don't like it anymore or need a break from it. They feel entitled to rush to the end and get the best stuff. They actively look for exploits to get there. Nothing in between matters because you pass the in-between stages so quickly. Worse, the developers "listen to the players" and actually help them shoot themselves in the foot with such events as +250% XP / CXP events.

Now that so many players are habituated to this, it's really hard to cure, much less bring in a new demographic of players. With people threatening to unsubscribe and stop income flowing into the game, it gets even trickier to do anything about it. However, I feel the most important step is to STOP LISTENING TO PLAYERS. Well, not exactly cut them off, but limit their influence. Ultimately, as with any other game out there (especially those that have not opened themselves to listening to players too much) you will be left with players who love the game enough to stay and hopefully a new generation of players who aren't spoiled by being able to throw a tantrum to get what they want.

Galactic Command was likely an attempt to introduce a slow-release of content with Tiers 2 and 3 as the rewarding milestones where you got better gear. But it failed because of marketing:
  • The initial incarnation was essentially a loot lottery. Each GC level gave you one chance to get loot and more often than not you didn't get anything worthwhile. It was possible to go through all tiers and all levels and get nothing useful.
  • The end was in sight and with some complaining on the forums, made easier still.
    • Too quickly people saw that it was theoretically possible to get to Tier 3 and maximum level -- quickly enough that nothing in Tiers 1 or 2 mattered.
    • So immediately they set their sights on Tier 3 and a full set of the best gear, and felt entitled to a full set for each character by level 300.
    • And if in their minds it took too long even with various exploits, they complained.
Overall it was a marketing failure -- Too many end-game players latched on to a self-defeating paradigm. And probably too many new players rushed to the same end-game situation, not helped by obscene XP boosts.

What can be done about Galactic Command now?
  • Try to make the continuing gameplay rewarding, if not necessarily more enjoyable.
    • Uncap Galactic Command levels, BUT reserve the right to adjust the exponential rate according to how quickly people are advancing.
      • Suppose it requires a cumulative total of N^r points to get to GC level N. If an adjustment needs to be made, change the rate to N^(r+a). Don't take away levels as a result, but the new total needs to be reached before the next level can be attained.
      • Exploiters can be further penalized by permanently changing their personal rate to N^(r+a+p), in effect forcing them to make up points for those they got through exploits.
      • By uncapping the levels, all current actions continue to accumulate toward a potential future benefit. There is therefore a reason to continue playing.
    • Rebrand the contents of the lottery crates as a bonus rather than a necessity toward getting a set of gear.
    • Make gear rated beyond what you can craft with vendor schematics to be subscriber-only. Also, disable the ability to sell or trade gear beyond a certain rating.
      • Right now, you don't need Galactic Command to gear up -- you can buy the nearly-top-tier Item Modifications off the Galactic Trade Network. This bypasses the whole Galactic Command system such that theoretically you don't need to be subscribed, you just need someone to buy or make the Item Modifications for you and be at level 70. You can be stuck at a very low Command Rank and still have nearly-the-best gear that is hundreds of Command Ranks away.
  • Expand currency exchange
    • Already suggested on the forums: Alternative non-gear rewards. Pretty easy to slowly expand on this one.
  • Remove the lottery
    • Command levels give currencies for exchange only. But continue to track Command Levels AND currency transactions so that the total in circulation/use by each player can be controlled against exploits.
  • Tie the top tier gear to something other than a clearly grindable number
    • For example, specific achievements or tiers of total game Achievement scores might be necessary to use gear currently rated at the topmost 0-8 points of Gear Rating. It's still possible to grind to it, but the array of achievements required and their one-time nature means it's not going to be so straightforward or exploitable.
  • Stop flogging a dead horse
    • With tweaks to the currency exchange rate, and providing various exclusive rewards for currency conversion, Galactic Command can just stay as is. What's more in need is adjusting the game itself, and player expectations, away from instant gratification to milestones to ever expand and transform a player's gameplay experience.
  • Slow down Level Gain
    • Since many multiplayer and end-game activities are level-synced (e.g., PvP), there is actually little reason to accelerate level gain. In fact, levelling too fast brings all sorts of problems, not the least of which are
      • DECREASED game enjoyment from being over-levelled in the stories.
      • Not having the proper time to learn how to use your character's abilities.
      • Uselessness of just about anything you acquire unless it is at maximum attainable /level.
      • A sense of entitlement to instant gratification.
Lack of Alt Support
For players interested in story, it was a huge improvement to be able to re-run chapters of Knights of the Fallen Empire and Knights of the Eternal Throne. It saves players from having to make a new character just to see the various story paths -- addressing in part the issue of too many alts or grinding through story.
Being able to reset more of the game, and especially your choice of character subclass (e.g., Sith Juggernaut versus Sith Marauder) would go a long way to rePLAYability (and somewhat address the issue of too many alts).
For everyone else, the question then becomes why someone would want so many alts. Until that question is answered, any steps toward appeasement are futile and possibly misguided. How many snipers does one need, especially when you can overhaul their specialization at any time?
Suppose someone wanted to be able to play every type of character at some point or other. This is still 16 characters maximum (allowing for respecialization). Any more and they are likely throwaways for Galactic Trade Network slots or exploits to get weekly rewards such as Conquest Points (imagine one person having a couple dozen alts, each doing an ops lockout for Conquest Points).

If there is the ability to change subclass then the need for alts is immediately halved and that could go a long way. Since subclasses still share the same class story (Sith Juggernauts have the same story as Sith Marauders), it's almost a logical step to allow changing between subclasses.
Alt support could then be added by supporting whole sets of quick-keys that do not need to be reconfigured whenever specializations are changed.

With respect to Galactic Command, GC level could be legacy wide -- but with the caveat that the more alts you have, the slower your progress since it is diluted across all max-level alts. This would already be built-in if the idea of Galactic Command for strictly controlled currency tokens is adopted (see above).
In tandem with this, a slowdown in introducing new gear to help players catch up in gearing AND enjoy their new gear -- customized to what is perceived as a reasonable number of maximum alts. If Galactic Command levels are uncapped then players also have a choice to focus on fewer maximum-geared characters or just a few alts, depending on how much time they have sunk into getting Galactic Command levels and the associated currencies.